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To make Metro Manila ‘walkable’

opinion / Columnists
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To make Metro Manila ‘walkable’

/ 12:24 AM October 29, 2015

We pedestrians hold as self-evident the truth that walking is the most natural of the means of transportation available to humankind.

Moreover, we hold that walking is an activity that is healthy for individuals, good for the environment, contributory to social solidarity, and beneficial to the sustainability of our cities.

Finally, we hold that walking is an ideal, economic and practical way to travel in urban areas—one that has the potential to decongest the roads, alleviate motor traffic and boost productivity.

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Despite the many benefits of walking, we lament the fact that Metro Manila has been a hostile environment to pedestrians.

The lack of organized infrastructure has made walking difficult. Often, sidewalks are absent or too narrow, or they are shared with electric posts, vehicles, and even street vendors that all but block the way. Pedestrian lanes are misplaced or missing, while lights are lacking in streets and overpasses where they are badly needed.

Even with the existence of physical infrastructure, safety concerns such as the risk of theft, harassment and accidents have bedeviled pedestrians, and deterred others from even considering walking as an option. Pollution levels, too, have made the sidewalks an inhospitable place. The noxious air, the noise, and the heat are all health hazards that further justify people’s apprehensions.

But while some have argued that walking is inherently problematic in tropical cities, the examples of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and even some parts of Metro Manila itself such as Bonifacio Global City are proof that with proper infrastructure, walking comfortably and safely is possible: The impediments are not climatic, but manmade. Indeed, despite the seemingly insurmountable problems, walking is something that can be done in the whole of Metro Manila, just as it has been done in many parts of the world.

* * *

Not all pedestrians are motorists, but most if not all motorists are pedestrians in one way or another. In fact, we pedestrians comprise a majority of the population, but because we have neither imagined nor organized ourselves as a community with legitimate grievances and concerns, our interests have been marginalized. Thus, if we are to effect change, we must firstly recognize ourselves as a community and draw empowerment on the basis of not just this political strength but also our inherent rights as residents of the metropolis and citizens of the country.

Invoking the principle of justice, we demand that pedestrians be given the same priority as motorists in any policy or program involving transportation in Metro Manila. Cognizant of the greater impact of pedestrian concerns on certain groups, such as the poor, persons with disability, and women, we also say this as a matter of inclusiveness and social justice.

The pedestrian lanes must be defended. The sidewalks must be defended. We call on everyone, pedestrians and motorists alike, to uphold and respect these features as facilities of safe passage. And, in this regard, we call upon the government to provide sufficiently-wide, well-marked and well-enforced pedestrian lanes, as well as wider sidewalks that are truly for pedestrians.

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We call upon the government to create walking corridors between areas with high volumes of exchange, such as Bonifacio Global City and Ayala Center, and within high-density areas such as Baclaran, Pasay, Cubao and Monumento. Universities, such as those on Katipunan and in the University Belt, should be connected to the nearest MRT or LRT station via student-friendly sidewalks. Importantly, for tourism, the old city of Manila should also be made “walkable” so that Filipinos and foreigners alike can be encouraged to explore its rich heritage.

These are just a few examples. We appeal to transportation experts and our fellow pedestrians to point out other areas which they think will benefit from an enhanced walking infrastructure.

We call for the creation of an enabling environment for walking—one that is safe from street criminals and motor vehicles alike, and one that considers the needs of persons with disabilities.

Toward the end of making walking more comfortable and pleasant, we call for the greening of the metropolis as a way of mitigating road pollution, and for a concerted effort not just to clean up the streets but also to create a culture of cleanliness. Mindful of the need for creativity and design, we appeal to artists and architects alike to help us in making our streets beautiful.

Pedestrians have responsibilities, too, and we recognize the need to educate our ranks on following the rules and walking on designated paths. But in the same breath, we demand an infrastructure that would discourage jaywalking in the first place. Alongside our respect for the existing rules and laws is a vigilance against those that enable an architecture of social injustice.

We encourage people to walk as a form of exercise and recreation, as a practical means of everyday transport, and as a way of seeing their surroundings in a different light. But we know that much work needs to be done before we can fully endorse walking in Metro Manila.

Thus, in solidarity with other cities in the country who confront a similar challenge, and with other groups, such as bikers, that are clamoring for inclusive mobility, we call upon our fellow pedestrians and citizens to join us in demanding an organized walking infrastructure in our metropolis, and in discussing how we can move toward our goal.

Gideon Lasco, a medical doctor and anthropologist, is project leader of Walk Manila, an advocacy of Global Shapers Community Manila to make Metro Manila a “‘walkable’ city.” Last Oct. 25, he and his fellow advocates walked the entire stretch of Edsa “to start a conversation about ‘walkability’ and pedestrian welfare.”

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TAGS: health, infrastructure, Metro Manila, Walking
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